One of my earliest “controversial” articles that made the watch industry raise its brow was on the first release of the Vacheron Constantin Quai de l’Ile watch collection from back in 2008. I more or less panned the concept and execution of the watch. But did so in a way that allowed even Vacheron Constantin to appreciate and respect my feedback. Last year I was told in confidence by them that the Qaui de l’Ile (QDI) was going to be redesigned, and I felt a moment of pride that my opinions are valuable to at least a few people.

The original QDI suffered (in my opinion) on a few fronts. First was the eye straining design that make it hard to read. Second was the “passport” protections of the dial, and third was the fallacy of “customization.” You can read all about my thoughts in the previous article. Now, slated for release in 2011, Vacheron Constantin will release a new version of the QDI. I still can’t pronounce the name of the watch to save my life, but I like it a lot better. Retained is the case design which I quite liked, and new is an updated movement and much easier to read dial.

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Aside from the Overseas, VC (Vacheron Constantin) has more or less no watches for casual wear, sport situations, or anything that isn’t super classy or super complicated. So the QDI was sort of meant to be it. VC wanted (still wants) to have offerings that appeal to younger watch buyers. While the brand is doing really well with their core collection pieces, not sure how well that “age push downward” has been going. Don’t get my wrong, there are a lot of VC watches I like, but I would never think to wear one while wearing shorts and drinking a beer.

The new QDI watch is called the Vacheron Constantin Quai de l’Ile Retrograde Annual Calendar. As such, you’ll note that it has an annual calendar with a retrograde date hand. The movement is new, but not radical in its difference from the calendar movement from the old QDI. Basically VC just made a few changes, adding the moon phase complication, removing the power reserve indicator, and maybe a few other things. The movement is the beautifully in-house made Calibre 2460 QRA automatic movement. It has a Seal of Geneva on it and a pretty black/gray ruthenium plated 22k gold rotor. The moon phase indicator needs adjustment once each 122 years (assuming the watch is running all the time), and the calendar needs to be adjusted only once a year. The difference between an annual and perpetual calendar are only slight, and annual ones are much less expensive.

The dial is very simple compared to what the watch used to have. It has a simple and straight forward look that is pleasant. It isn’t going to win any awards in terms of creativity, but it is something I would gladly wear. The dial has some pleasing vertical texturing as well. I do like the large applied gold hour makers and hands (even though the hands are still arguably too simple).

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While the passport and strange dial are gone, the “customization” is still there. Vacheron Constantin is careful this time around to point at that customization means choosing from a few predefined options. I guess over the last few years watch brands have realized that people are actually reading the press releases that barely put any effort into, and are in turn scrutinizing them. As such, the new QDI seven part watch case can be constructed from a few metals, and I believe you can also selectively choose the finishing (polished, brushed, etc…) on the various case parts. According the VC the case has 700 possible combos to choose from.

Even though the new QDI is a toned-down version of the original one, it does feel more like a Vacheron Constantin. To be honest, VC didn’t really that much to change the watch – it is more like a project refresh. The piece now has a classic feel to it, and the case still looks great after two years. This is the QDI that should have come out in 2008, but it will be here for 2011. Glad Vacheron Constantin heeded the advice I, and I am sure other people, gave them. The Vacheron Constantin Quai de l’Ile Retrograde Annual Calendar watch will show up for sale sometime in 2011 and be officially unveiled in January.

Some images are used with permission from The Hour Lounge.

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